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large_make-the-most-of-holy-week-l503ynhwI recognize that Holy Week, as an annual set of services, is not spelled out in Scripture. It is a tradition of the church. But a good, gospel tradition, and one that still has deep resonances in the rhythms of American life. So let’s use this week as best we can for outreach, for evangelism, and for apologetic engagement.

And for keeping the main thing the main thing.

The cross is what saves (1 Cor. 1:18). The cross is what we preach (1 Cor. 2:2). The cross, and all that it stands for, is our first priority (1 Cor. 15:3). Don’t make this week--of all weeks--about anything else.

This is not the week for being savvy and sophisticated. This is the week for being simple. Sin and salvation. Death and resurrection. Let every preacher preach this gospel and every congregation hold fast to this word (1 Cor. 15:1-2).

Holy Week is a check-up for the church. To use a tag line that’s already overused, if your core message for this week is something other than “Christ died for our sins,” you’re doing Christianity wrong. If you want to preach about gender equality or social justice or progressive dispensationalism or the extra Calvinisticum, do it a different week. This week is about a substitute for our sin and an empty tomb for our justification.

This week is about the passion of the Christ--about his suffering, his betrayal, his humiliation, his death, his burial, and his resurrection from the grave three days later. If we are celebrating something else, our gospel boat has lost track of its North Star.

Think of what we’ll sing this week:

Man of sorrows! what a name for the Son of God, who came ruined sinners to reclaim: Hallelujah! what a Savior!

What thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners’ gain: mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain. Lo, here I fall, my Savior! Tis I deserve thy place; look on me with thy favor, vouchsafe to me thy grace.

For me, kind Jesus, was thine incarnation, thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation: thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die! Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I!

Tell me, ye who hear him groaning, was there every grief like his? Friend thro fear his cause disowning, foes insulting his distress; many hands were raised to wound him, none would interpose to save; but the deepest stroke that pierced him was the stroke that Justice gave.

And then on Sunday morning:

Lives again our glorious King; Alleluia! where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! Once he died, our souls to save; Alleluia! where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Despite the busyness, this should be every preacher’s favorite week of the church year. And the best week for every church choir, every organist, every worship band, and every congregation. What a somber week filled with happy news!

Let’s not trade the glories of the cross for a mess of religious niceties, spiritual ambiguities, and moral uplift. It’s time to tell the old, old story once again--the story of sin atoned for, wrath appeased, heaven secured, and death conquered. No gimmicks, no trinkets, no goofy skits and video clips. The story is good enough all by itself.

Let’s just make sure we haven’t lost the plot.

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7 thoughts on “Are We Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing?”

  1. Richard F says:

    Kevin, one of your best

    Yes, we must keep the main thing the main thing, and we must keep the main thing as the second main thing too.

    We must not insert moral uplift, holiness, progressive santification as the second main thing. This week and every week is about the dynamic of God’s holiness. ‘You are of purer eyes than to look on sin ….and do nothing’ (Habakkuk)

    Today, and on Sunday, Christ is the victor

  2. Curt Day says:

    The answer to the question posed by the title is often indicated by how we treat people. Two parables that support that statement are the parable of the two men praying and the parable of the man who, after being forgiven much, refused to forgive a little for one of his debtors. Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to think and speak about the cross and the resurrection. But what it does mean is that when we don’t try to reflect the same love, mercy, and grace on others which we have received, all of our words that proclaim our faith in what really matters is tarnished.

  3. david says:

    Correct on so many fronts. Sadly, the church has a history of keeping the main thing the only thing, as if theological truth is separate from True Truth.

  4. Great word for this week. We communicate so much to our congregants by what we choose to talk about. I.e., the communication underlying the communication.

  5. Simon says:

    If one followed the traditional services of Holy Week, the main thing really is front and centre. From Palm Sunday, the services follow the pattern of events leading to the resurrection as set out in the Gospel. The main thing is not evangelising and apologetic engagement, although the occasion may arise to do these things during Holy Week. The main thing is the Pascha of Christ and for Christians to participate in that event through the services.

  6. neville briggs says:

    Jesus preached that the main thing was the coming of the Kingdom of God.

    Christ offers forgiveness, Christ defeated sin and death on the cross, and Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the new creation with the Kingdom of God coming in power and great glory.

    At His trial Jesus told Pilate that He had come to testify to the truth. What truth might that be; that Caesar is not Lord, that man is not Lord, that Nature is not Lord. That God is Lord and that God not angry and wrathful against His creation, He loves His world and will redeem all of His creation through His own suffering and sacrifice and make it anew through resurrection life.

    We cannot just preach about the cross. The Lord has risen, He has risen indeed. We can’t linger about at the foot of the cross, we must go forward in the Spirit’s power into the Kingdom of God, following the risen Lord.

  7. HENRY ENTINGH says:

    “Holy Week” is not a gospel tradition: it is a human invention. First of all it suggests that 51 weeks of the year and unholy. But since by faith we are grafted into Christ in eternal union, he is not only our righteousness but our holiness. The gospel tradition is the Lord’s Supper. Apparently it is not sufficient to remind us not only of the past accomplishment but the future hope in the return of the risen Lord. Paul admonishes the Galatians for observing days and months and seasons and years. Yet the church continually lives on a liturgical merry-go-round of doing exactly that: pretending every year that Jesus must be born again, die again and be raised again. The birth and the death of Jesus are the last great acts of the old covenant. The resurrection is the first great act of the new and brings with it all the benefits of the cross in the person of the risen Lord Jesus. Not only that, the church is increasingly turning to man made visuals and ceremonies. Is not Christ according to his word sufficient. Or do we now live by faith and by sight: by God’s word and human imagination? Colossians 2:8-10 clearly warns about submitting to vain philosophy according to human tradition and the rudiments of the world which always involves a return to bondage. The New Covenant concept of time is not circular, but linear moving from the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth to his glorious return. Frequently the NT encourages us to set our hope fully on the grace to be revealed at his coming. How often are significant hymns sung in worship regarding the resurrection and the return. Have we really learned to glory in Christ Jesus? Does he really have the pre-eminence? Or do we glory in liturgical rituals and church programs?

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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